Readers on Reading … Richard from the UK

Today, I’m pleased to have a reader from the UK providing his thoughts about reading. Welcome, Richard.

Please tell us a little about yourself. My name is Richard Tearle, I am a retired Civil servant from the UK and I review Historical Fiction for a well known online blog.

In your opinion, what is the power of fiction? At its best, fiction can take you into a world you don’t know, with characters you’ve never met in situations you cannot imagine. Historical fiction gives you insight into that world, those characters and those situations that you may well know something of.

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of? Mostly Historical Fiction, of course, but also Fantasy and some thrillers.

What aspects of an author’s writing make you feel like you’re ‘immersed in the novel’s world’ and/or ‘transported in time and place’. A style that fits the character or situation, but wouldn’t necessarily work in a completely different book. The abilty to ‘grab’ the reader in the first page and remain ‘grabbed’ until the last.

Which books read in the past year or so stand out for you and why? In all honesty, far too many to list here.

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences your book purchases? I rarely have to buy books nowadays, but any new Bernard Cornwell, Joe Abercrombie or John Connolly are a must. Basically, anything else that attracts my attention but it will generally be Historical Fiction.

Is there anything about where you live or your particular background that influences your fiction choices? I live in Lichfield, Staffordshire, near to Tamworth and Burton-upon-Trent, all of which are rich in Mercian history.

If you’re a book blogger or run a book site, please tell us a little about your focus and features. The site I ‘work’ for (it is voluntary and unpaid’) is called Discovering Diamonds and is run by author Helen Hollick. We deal mostly in Indie authors as they have few outlets of this sort and we believe that Indie authors are for the most part, the equal of established mainstream authors. Its also the best ‘job’ I have ever had!!

If there is anything else about reading fiction, the kind of books available today, or the way reading is changing that you’d like to comment on, please do so. Reading fiction is rather like watching a dramatisation instead of the equivalent documentary – much more fun but probably not as accurate. I think that e-books are the future, though they may mean the death of libraries, which will be sad. More and more authors are going Indie and self publishing which may have an effect on the way mainstream publishers dictate what they want readers to read.

Sounds like you’re a busy man with all your endeavours, Richard. Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed and for supporting Discovering Diamonds – a very important endeavour that is much appreciated by the historical fiction community.

You can reach Richard at his art site and on Facebook or at the Tearle Family site.

Reader Interview Series – Sue from East Anglia

Woman Reading - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Woman Reading – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Sue from East Anglia is the 9th interview in this reader series. I, for one, am enjoying hearing from readers about their personal preferences and backgrounds. Definitely an eclectic mix of viewpoints!

Tell us a little about yourself.   I am female, and 51 years of age.  My education has included studying for two history degrees and a postgraduate course in library and information studies. Now living in East Anglia, in England, I am a historical researcher and librarian (I do wear the spectacles, but don’t have the bun of the stereotype!).  Pastimes include walking in the countryside, visiting art galleries and museums, and making pasta.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences.    I’ve never actually counted the number of books I read per year, maybe I ought to start… It is usual for me to have several books on the go at once, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and also a mix of print and e-book.  Although initially skeptical, I do enjoy reading my Kindle (which is especially convenient when travelling).

How do you decide which books to buy? What influences your purchases?    The cover of the book has to appeal to me and reading the publisher’s blurb will help with the decision when buying. Nowadays a tagline on an author’s website can also grab my attention, such as ‘two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him’ (Anna Belfrage),  and ‘JF Penn – Thrillers on the edge’ . If I’ve read a book on the Kindle which I’ve particularly enjoyed, I will buy the print version.

What do you like about historical fiction? What don’t you like?    I enjoy being immersed in another world – set in time and place, believable characters, and a strong story. I’m not keen on the ‘alternate history’ subgenre of historical fiction.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer?    I thought I tended to gravitate towards the seventeenth century in historical fiction, though a quick analysis of a few favourite books shows a wider range (see below). From the examples below it also seems that I have predilection for novels set in the present and the past, which is quite a surprise. I prefer books which are set in a real place.

Do you have historical fiction books or authors you would recommend to other readers? Can you tell us why?   A few favourite historical fiction books:

  • The Children’s Crusade by Henry Treece, which I loved as a child (13th century)
  • The Marsh King’s Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick (13th century)
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt (Present/Victorian)
  • Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory (17th century)
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (12th century)
  • A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin (Present/15th century)
  • Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (Present/17th century)
  • Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne (Present/16th century)

All the authors are great writers and storytellers.

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubscan you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?    I haven’t ventured into the world of social media as yet, nor onto Goodreads. Though as a Historical Novel Society member, I rely on the society website, newsletter and quarterly magazine to learn about new historical fiction. Individual author blogs and websites, and other blogs such as http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.co.uk/http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/ and http://writinghistoricalnovels.com/ now also feature in my reading habits.

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?    Not really advice – but I relish knowing what inspired the author to write about a particular subject.  I like to know which characters are based on real people and which are purely fictional. The inclusion of author’s notes, genealogies, maps, sources, timelines and even bibliographies are a definite bonus for me in a work of historical fiction. (I note that the majority of the books mentioned above do include author’s notes)

Is there anything else about reading historical fiction that you’d like to comment on?    Historical fiction (from both traditional and indie publishers) seems to be in a healthy position at the moment, long may it continue.

I agree, Sue. Long may it continue! And many thanks for adding your perspective to the mix. 

Reader Interview Series – Ken L.

Man Reading - John Singer Sargent
Man Reading – John Singer Sargent

Please welcome Ken, the second of our reader interviews. In addition to reading, Ken has wide-ranging interests and many author recommendations to tempt other readers. Ken is a Facebook friend.

Tell us a little about yourself  –  I am male, 68 years of age and live in a small village in an area designated as an area of outstanding beauty which is in the  county of Somerset in the UK. I am now retired.

I trained as a design draughtsman in the Nuclear Power Industry, later becoming a site engineer helping to supervise the construction of Nuclear Power Stations, the latter part of my working life was spent in Sales and Marketing working for a Danish Pump Company.

My Favourite pastimes are reading, generally historical novels, spend a lot of time walking our two Giant Schnauzer dogs, gardening, we have a fairly large garden. Have done a lot of research on my family tree and through the National Geographic Genographic project have become very interested in the DNA aspect of finding out who and where our ancestors came from. Other interests are Folk Music, Art, drawing and painting, collecting  antique drawing instruments.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences – Generally read about one book per week so 50 to 60 per year, tend to read when I have free time, but mostly in the evening. I prefer a printed book rather than an ebook, although I have a number of ebooks on my iPad, this preference is probably an age related thing, although my daughters prefer printed books.

I generally only read one book at a time, and the majority will be historical novels set in Ancient times, Roman,Viking, Medieval, have not read many set in more recent times other than War Horse and just recently a novel set in the civil war period (England) mainly because I had read a number of the author’s books set in the Viking period.

Does not matter how long or short the book, I decide to read purely on subject matter. Mobile devices such as the iPad have only changed my reading habit insomuch as it is now far more convenient when going on holiday just to take my iPad.

How do you decide which books to buy, what influences your purchases? –  I generally decide by the author and time period of the novel, however I have bought books that have intrigued me by reading the brief synopsis of the story on the book cover, three come to mind, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury and Times Tapestry by Stephen Baxter – all of these books are historical type mysteries and I really enjoyed them.

What do you like about historical fiction what don’t you like? – I just like Ancient History and reading historical novels especially the really good ones, can give you an insight into a world long gone. You can also learn lots of interesting facts about the period and the people. I can’t say I dislike anything about historical fiction.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer? – As I have said earlier the main areas of historical fiction I prefer are Roman, Viking and Medieval period.

Do you have historical books or authors you would recommend to other readers, can you tell us why? – I have quite a large list of authors I would recommend such as Bernard Cornwall, Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, James Wilde, Simon Scarrow, Robyn Young, Jack Whyte, Stewart Binns, Angus Donald to name but a few. A few outstanding books for me come to mind, these are books I really could not put down  – Conquest by Stewart Binns, Requiem by Robyn Young, Hereward by James Wilde, Outlaw by Angus Donald.

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubs – can you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?  The only discussions that I have regarding my reading material is really within the family, particularly my brother. We tend to meet up every month for lunch and much to our wives’ disgust, we generally spend a lot of the lunchtime discussing the historical novels that we are reading or have recently read. My brother is actually having a go at writing an historical novel set in Roman times, he has done a great amount of research and finished a couple of chapters, really look forward to reading it.

What advice do you have for writers of historical novels?  – The only advice I would give is keep those novels coming, the greatest thing at the moment for me, is that we have such a healthy number of good historical novelists writing novels set in the periods I love. Long may it continue.

Is there anything else about reading historical novels you would like to comment on? – Discovering new historical novelists is always exciting, you can find them in the most unusual places. We were visiting a craft centre at one time, very near to where we live that exhibited all manner of things made from willow, in the showroom they were displaying a novel written by a local author, the title made me pick it up, “Warrior King”, a story about Alfred the Great. It was a really good read and I emailed the author to tell her how much I had enjoyed it.

Many thanks, Ken, for sharing your views. I’m interested in your point about ‘discovering new historical novelists’. Do you use features such as the one offered on Amazon ‘customers who bought this book also purchased …’ ? I think discovery is one of the biggest challenges facing authors, particularly those who are self-publishing.